Ash-grey shafts shot out of the cliff rock, racing into the embrace of the clouds. Stone sewn seamlessly to stone, the jagged steely glitter spiralled thrice, curtaining a little piece of the earth from the hungry sea. The chain of craggy cliffs slung out along the wavering shoreline, their hoary heads held high in defiance of wind and water, splotched with egg-yolk-gold and weed-green, had once been kin to the sheer, gigantic shelf of rock that had borne the castle aloft. Fettered to the earth, they could but moan and fidget now, as they watched their gouged and blackened cousin wrestle the urge to sag wearily into the sea.
The Castle, yearning heavenwards, knew naught of the battle waged below. Ever she stood in peril of being shorn off and sent plummeting down; but the blue-white sky entwined about her tall, perforce sloping towers, and the sun that set them aglow, conspired to restrain her, to check her fall. Morn after morn, eventide after eventide they had done this, ever since the castle had first bowed her ravaged head over the sea.
Once – and the hour was well within living memory, if the living only cared to remember – once the four mighty stone towers had leapt impetuously above the silver-stone curtain, higher than the sharpest gaze could pierce. Radiant with life and laughter, the Castle sent forth a welcome her stern visage could not belie. The gallant pennants and the gay draperies, the ring of merry jests, the vigorous echoes of feet quick with joyous life had ridden out upon the sea-spray, coaxing home canoe and warship with the same ardour. But the harbour once hailed with resounding cheers lay scorched and crumpled at her feet, desolate. And in the fickle memories of men it had been consigned already to the realm of legend.
And yet the thrice-curtained castle held her secrets still, behind the latticeshadows no sun could now leaven. Within the shrouded stone chamber the eerie green of a flickering taper flung coiling, dancing echoes of light, warring with the blue-flamed fire of Rvalenlore, shadowless and dauntless, born of cool stone and thin air. Within the sanctuary glided dark-robed wraiths, shrouded, latticed themselves, scarce breathing as they stooped over the flames and the figure cloaked within – another shadow, another wraith, spun lifeless into the flaming cocoon. Anguish lay stilled upon its marble-pallor, stilled almost to tranquillity. Black hair bounced off indifferently off the gaunt face, wormed their way into the cocoon’s staring eyes. It never stirred.
An age crept by. The flame-cocoon pranced and spun, pranced and spun, swallowing the taper-echoes. The green-glowing taper, snatched up into the rising whirl, struck into its very core, suffusing it with its emerald blood.
“Llanlach Trébori!” It grated through the castle walls, a sound deeper than thunder rolling off the high sea winds; it trembled through the very heart of that blighted earth, that cry of the shadows. A gorgon, a veritable gorgon, shattered the shell, casting the limp green-doused form at her feet. The Summoner alone met her stare for stare; and for all her hideous savagery, he was the more sinister. Now they chaunted, the wraiths, a strangely soft lilting tongue that cracked and hoarsened as they vied for ascendancy. And then with one wild laugh the gorgon yielded.
“Aye!” she shrieked “A soul for a soul!”
“Behold thy hunter!”
She vanished in a whirl as dazzling as her coming, and the purple vapour streaked out, cloaking, enveloping the corpse-like form, lancing it upright. Green eyes locked with vacant black, bored into and past them with implacable ferocity.
A dove flew out of its nest in the turret above, its heart fluttering with a fear it had never before known. The kite, who had watched it hungrily since daybreak, swooped. The dove died ere its strangled scream had faded from the salt sea breeze.
And then there was silence, save for the unceasing plaint of the sea.